The term cholesterol is used very commonly among people, but do you know what exactly cholesterol is? Why is cholesterol so important in maintaining good health? What is bad cholesterol?
What can raise your cholesterol levels, and how can you reduce them? If you are seeking answers to such questions, read on, and get answers to each of your questions.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is basically a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found that all the cells of our bodies contain. It is not essentially bad. Our body requires adequate amounts of it to build cells, and produce vitamins and other hormones. Although, too much cholesterol can lead to some problems.
Cholesterol comes into your body from two sources. The liver produces the most cholesterol you need. The remaining cholesterol comes from the foods you eat that come from animals.
For instance: Poultry, meat, and dairy products all comprise dietary cholesterol. These foods are also high in saturated and trans fats help your liver produce even more cholesterol than it otherwise would.
In some cases, this added production of cholesterol makes the person go into unhealthy cholesterol from a normal cholesterol level.
Why Does Cholesterol Level Matter?
Cholesterol circulates in your bloodstream—the risk to your health increases when the cholesterol level in your blood increases. You will become highly susceptible to developing cardiovascular diseases such as stroke or heart disease. That’s the reason why it’s advised to check your cholesterol levels frequently.
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. LDL is the good cholesterol, and HDL is the good cholesterol. Not having enough good cholesterol or excessive amounts of bad cholesterol in your blood can be dangerous to your health.
Cholesterol can gradually accumulate in the inner walls of the arteries that feed your heart and brain.
LDL Vs. HDL
LDL and HDL are two types of lipoproteins. Lipoprotein is a combination of lipids (fats) and protein. To travel through your bloodstream, lipids need to be attached to the protein. Both of these cholesterol serves different purposes:
LDL: LDL stands for low-density proteins. It is also referred to as the “bad cholesterol” because high levels of it lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries.
HDL: HDL stands for high-density proteins. It is also referred to as the “good cholesterol” because it transports cholesterol from other parts of your body back to the liver. The liver then eradicates the cholesterol from your body.
How High LDL Levels Leads To Cardiovascular Diseases?
If you are diagnosed with a high LDL, it means that you have a high level of bad cholesterol in your blood. This extra LDL combines with other substances to form plaque. Plaque accumulates in your arteries and leads to a condition called atherosclerosis.
Another condition called coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when the accumulation of plaque takes place in the arteries of your heart. It makes your arteries narrow and hardened, which inhibits or blocks the flow of blood to your heart.
Since blood transports oxygen to the heart, the inhibited blood flow to your heart means your heart would be devoid of oxygen. This can cause chest pain (angina) or if the blood flow is completely blocked, a heart attack.
How Is Common High Cholesterol?
In the United States, about 32% of people have high cholesterol. Of these, only one in three people has their condition under control, and just half of the people are receiving treatment for their condition.
People having high cholesterol are two times more susceptible to heart disease than others. One of the most prescribed drugs for high cholesterol is statins.
How To Determine Your LDL Level?
A blood test can evaluate your cholesterol levels, including LDL. When and how often to take the test depends upon your age, family history, and risk factors. Following are some general recommendations:
For people age 19 years or younger:
- The first test should be around ages 9 – 11 years
- Children should have the test again every five years
- Some children could have this test starting at age two if they have a family history of high blood cholesterol, stroke, or heart attack
For people of age 20 years or older:
- Younger adults should take the test every 5 years
- Men ages between 45 and 65 and women ages between 55 and 65 should have it every 1 – 2 years
What Can Raise Your LDL Level?
Various factors can increase your LDL levels, including:
- Diet: Saturated fat and trans fat in the food you eat can increase your blood cholesterol level
- Weight: Being overweight or obese tends to increase your bad cholesterol level, decrease your good cholesterol level, and raise your total cholesterol level
- Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle can cause weight gain, which can increase your LDL level
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol. Since HDL helps to eradicate bad cholesterol or LDL from your arteries, so if you have low HDL, it may contribute to having a higher LDL level.
- Genetics: Your genes partially determine the amount of cholesterol your body produces. High cholesterol could run in families. For instance, familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited type of high blood cholesterol.
- Race: Certain races might have greater odds of developing high blood cholesterol. For instance, African Americans usually have higher levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol levels than whites.
- Age and Sex.: As people grow older, their cholesterol levels increase. Before attaining the age of menopause, women have reduced total cholesterol levels than men of the same age group. After menopause, women’s LDL levels tend to increase.
- Other Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions, including diabetes, HIV/AIDS, chronic kidney disease, etc., can raise your LDL level.
- Medications: Certain medications can also raise your LDL level. These medications include blood pressure medicines, HIV/AIDS medicines, and steroids.
What Should Be Your LDL Level?
As LDL is bad cholesterol, it’s good to have lower levels of it in your blood. A higher LDL level makes you more susceptible to coronary artery disease and various other illnesses.
- Less than 100mg/dL – Optimal
- 100-129mg/dL – Near optimal/above optimal
- 130-159 mg/dL – Borderline high
- 160-189 mg/dL – High
- 190 mg/dL and above – Very High
How Can You Reduce Your LDL Level?
Your healthcare provider will set up a treatment plan for you including lifestyle changes and/or medications that can help lower your bad cholesterol levels.
Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes – It includes:
- Heart-healthy eating: Heart-healthy eating means limiting the amount of saturated and trans fats in your diet. There are various heart-healthy dieting plans, including DASH Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Vegetarian or Vegan Diet, etc.
Kindly consult your doctor or nutritionist before planning to follow any of these diet plans.
- Physical activity: You should spend at least 30 minutes most (if not all) days of the week doing physical activity such as walking, cycling, exercising, etc.
- Weight management: If you are overweight, try losing some weight. Shedding some pounds can help reduce your LDL levels.
Drug Treatment – If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to lower your LDL cholesterol levels, you may also need to take certain medicines. There are many cholesterol-lowering medications available; each one works in different ways and has different side effects.
Talk to your doctor to know which of the medicines you should take. While taking medicine, make sure to stick with healthy lifestyle choices.